Home > Heartless(11)

Author: Marissa Meyer

Perking up when she spotted Catherine, Mary Ann lowered her head and tugged at one corner of the tablecloth as if to straighten it. ‘What did you think of the performance?’ she whispered.

Cath’s fingers fluttered yearningly over the platters of food. ‘I thought court jokers only told bawdy jokes and made wisecracks about the King.’

‘It makes me wonder what else he might have up that slee—er, hat of his.’ Mary Ann swept a tray off the table and curtsied. ‘Truffle, milady?’

‘You know I can’t.’

‘Just pretend to be considering it so I can stand here a while longer. The royal servants keep trying to coerce us attendants to bring out more food, and if I have to go back down to that kitchen I’m sure to melt. Besides, there’s plenty food out already when taking into account the number of guests here tonight and the rate at which it’s being consumed, and they don’t need any more no matter what they say. Right awful waste it’d be.’

Catherine steepled her fingers. ‘Are those caramels?’

‘I think so.’

‘How do you think chocolate caramels would be with a touch of sea salt on top?’

Mary Ann stuck out her tongue in disgust. ‘Why not throw in a dash of pepper while you’re at it?’

‘Just a thought.’ Catherine gnawed on her lower lip, eyeing the chocolates. Yes, sea salt, whatever Mary Ann might think. The pantry at Rock Turtle Cove was always well stocked with it, being so close to the shore, and once, being in an experimental mood, Cath had sprinkled a bit into her hot cocoa and found it surprisingly pleasant. It was just the thing for these truffles. A bit of saltiness to brighten the sweetness, a bit of crunch to reflect on the smooth caramel . . . why, she could make a salted caramel chocolate torte. It could be one of the bakery’s signature treats!

Her stomach rumbled.



‘You look as though you’re about to start drooling, and I would hate for you to stain that dress.’

She groaned. ‘I can’t help it. I’m so hungry.’ She wrapped her arms around her stomach as another growl rumbled through the velvet.

Mary Ann’s brows creased briefly with sympathy, but then her face brightened. ‘That dress must have been a smart choice all the same. You danced top couple with the King!’

Cath bit back another, deeper groan. No doubt her complaints of having to dance with the King were nothing compared to carrying heavy food-laden trays through a sweltering kitchen.

Her eye caught on a hulking shape at the other end of the feasting table, and she jolted. ‘Who is that?’

Mary Ann glanced over her shoulder, but just as quickly withdrew. She tipped her head closer. ‘His name is Peter Peter, and the tiny thing beside him is his wife. I haven’t caught her name yet.’

‘Tiny thi—oh.’

The wife Mary Ann had mentioned was indeed a slip of a girl, almost invisible beside the massive bulk of her husband. She had a back that seemed permanently hunched – from work, not age, Cath could guess – parchment-white skin and stringy blonde hair. She looked ill, one hand pressed against her stomach and having no apparent interest in the food before her. Her face shimmered with a thin layer of perspiration.

On the other hand, her husband was as intimidating as a troll. He stood well above the other guests and would have dwarfed even Cath’s barrel-chested father. He wore a black riding coat and breeches that barely fit, the material stretched taut across his oxen shoulders. Catherine suspected that if he moved too fast he would split any number of seams. He had frizzing red hair that was in need of both a washing and a comb, and a brow currently stuck in a scowl.

Neither Peter Peter nor his wife looked at all pleased to be at the King’s ball.

‘But who are they?’ she whispered.

‘Sir Peter owns the pumpkin patch outside of Nowhere Forest. One of the kitchen maids told me they were granted a knighthood after his wife won a pumpkin-eating contest a fortnight ago. I understand Jack came in second place and has been demanding a rematch ever since.’ Mary Ann harrumphed. ‘I wish someone would think to give me a knighthood for all that I eat.’

Catherine chuckled. One wouldn’t know it to look at Mary Ann, but she had an appetite to rival Cath’s own. They’d bonded over their love of food years ago, not long after Mary Ann had been hired on as a household maid.

Her laughter was eclipsed by a shadow falling over them. Thick fingers descended on Mary Ann’s tray. ‘What’re those?’

Mary Ann squeaked and Catherine flushed, but Sir Peter didn’t seem to notice either of them as he popped a truffle whole into his mouth. If he’d heard them talking about him and his wife, he showed no sign of it.

‘Er – caramel truffles, sir,’ said Mary Ann.

‘Unsalted,’ Cath added. ‘Unfortunately.’

Up close, she could make out the start of whiskers on Sir Peter’s chin and dirt beneath his fingernails, as if he’d been too preoccupied with his pumpkin patch to bother cleaning up for his first royal ball.

‘Sir Peter, isn’t it?’ she stammered. ‘I have not yet had the pleasure of making your acquaintance.’

His eyes narrowed as he sucked the chocolate from his dirty thumb. Catherine winced.

Beside her, eyes cast on the ground, Mary Ann ducked away from the table.

‘Ohm, mwait!’

Mary Ann paused.

Sir Peter swallowed, leaving bits of chocolate in his teeth. ‘I’ll be taking more of those. These are all – what’s it called? Compliments of the King, right?’

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